The Houston Food BankThe Houston Food Bank has anadvanced way for volunteer recruitment that takes place via the internet. Thissystem is part of the organization’s recent move to their newly-constructedcompound located at 535 Portwall Street. Both the volunteer recruitment systemand their new buildings were primary enticements, because they seemed to behighly efficient ways to attract volunteers and dispense food to those in need.
More specifically, I chose to spend most of my time at the Keegan Kitchenvolunteering for the “Kids Café,” assisting in meal preparation prior to theirbeing delivered to various community agencies participating in the program.This choice was based on seeing first-hand how a large-scale operation of thiskind adequately feeds visitors and to explore as much of the new compound aswas permissible. I volunteered for a four-hour morning shift, which was theperiod that meals were provided to the children, the afternoon shift onlyinvolved cleaning the kitchen environment in preparation for the next day. The Houston Food Bank first openedits doors in 1982 and has since grown to become the country’s largestdistributor of food items to a network of hunger relief agencies estimated tocurrently be 600 located in 18 counties in southeastern Texas. The food bankclaims to have provided 83 million meals to its various partners who then havefed approximately 800,000 individuals per year. The list of donated food itemsincludes packaged and canned foods, as well as fresh fruits and vegetables. Themajority is reserved for the numerous outlying agencies, but a large percentageremains onsite in order to package emergency provisions for people who areemployed but cannot afford to buy their own food, and for teachers who visitthe food bank in order to provide sustenance for their students.
Other servicesinclude a senior food box program, nutrition education, and a client assistanceprogram. The Kids Café is part of a larger national program started by thenonprofit Feeding America of the same name, and one of various programs helpingchildren receive the nutrition they require and deserve. To become a volunteer, it is firstnecessary to visit the Houston Food Bank website at http://www.houstonfoodbank.org and then follow the link at thetop of the page marked “Volunteer.” Then going to the “Keegan page,”individuals are provided with the opportunity of choosing which days and timesthey prefer to work.
From this page, prospective volunteers then link to the”Volunteer Opportunities Calendar” where they can find out more informationabout the work. In my specific case, I volunteered for morning hours at theKeegan kitchen, located at their new warehouse. By pressing on the specific dayfor volunteering, a popup appears that provides the needed informationpertaining to date, location, time and job duties.
Another popup emerges after pressingthe link marked “individuals” at the bottom, which will begin the process tosign up. While this process seems complex, I think it is ideal for people whohave little time in their daily schedules to phone or visit the agency. Signingup can, and does, occur after normal business hours, making it convenient forpeople in the comfort of their homes. The new facility is very impressive.It houses the food bank’s various programs and the warehouse where all fooddonations are handled is extremely large.
The Keegan kitchen is located withinthe warehouse, and I found it to be relatively small and cramped. However,throughout the course of my shift the kitchen seemed to operate from thestandpoint of organized chaos, not unlike kitchens seen at restaurants. I wasinitially tasked with cleaning vegetables and sorting out anything that smelledor appeared rotten.
Regardless of the size of the kitchen, and the fact that itseemed overcrowded, the volunteers I worked with were diligent and focused.Staff was extremely friendly and generous with their time, something that Ibelieve created a harmonious environment that people would enjoy being in. Thepace was quite rapid, which I thought was similar to any production environment.It was also similar to any assembly line, where people are tasked with oneresponsibility and when complete an item, or in this case, food item, moves tothe next for further preparation. I then moved to a line that placedthe food in containers.
The containers were the same as those used for frozendinners and they are lined on a counter resting in front of cooked food itemsready to be packaged. This process seemed more familiar as it sharedsimilarities with being at a cafeteria. The staff recognizes, and appreciates,that the food being prepared in their kitchen is for children, and they makeevery attempt to accommodate young tastes. On the menu for this day was chickenfilets, potatoes and a vegetable. Whether this is acceptable to childrenremains to be seen, but it is more nutritious than eating a breakfast filledwith starches, or having no breakfast at all. The four hours passed veryquickly, and before leaving the compound I visited the part of the warehousewhere food items are inspected and separated before they are shipped to otheragencies. My day at the Huston Food Bank was very rewarding and an experienceworth doing in the future.
The new facilities are ultra-modern and built forefficiency, especially the warehouse operation where the flow of work wasexpedited through intelligent design and engineering.